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More than 1 million growers are now embracing innovative approaches to producing more rice

By Soleak Seang
Vuong Hoang Kim, a cooperative member in Yen Bai province in northern Vietnam, has volunteered to teach other women farmers about using the System of Rice Intensification. “We all are very happy to see our rice plants grow very quickly" she says.

Over a million small-scale farmers in Vietnam have embraced a technique that grows more rice with less seed, fertilizer, water, and pesticides. It’s helping farmers reduce their costs and earn more, while adding about $23.5 million to the value of Vietnamese rice in just one crop season.

The agriculture ministry reported that there are now 1,070,384 farmers—about 70 percent of whom are women—applying the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI, on 185,065 hectares (457,110 acres) of their rice fields. The number of farmers using SRI practices in Vietnam has tripled since 2009.

SRI is a package of good agricultural techniques for hand-planted rice that helps farmers reduce their costs. And the innovative techniques are helping the poorest rice producers on the smallest rice paddy areas boost their rice yields: When compared to traditional rice growing techniques, SRI producers can increase rice production by as much as 500 kilos (more than 1,000 pounds) per hectare. (A hectare is about 2.5 acres.) This typically increases income by about $130 per hectare, enough money to cover food costs for a month for a family of four, or invest in five piglets to raise and sell.

“There is significant evidence that lives are changing at the village level,” said Le Minh, Oxfam Associate Country Director in Vietnam. “I give most of the credit to the collaboration amongst our farmers. When they are successful, they want to share their success with families and friends.”

Less expense, more rice

SRI farmers generally use less seed, sometimes as much as 70 percent less. They do this by transplanting fewer rice seedlings, and spacing them farther apart. This reduces competition for nutrients and allows the rice plants to have more room to grow stronger roots, which makes them more resistant to pests and diseases.

Inspired by their own success, farmers like Le Ngoc Thach are committed to help others. Thach attended an SRI training and visited a few demonstration fields. He gave SRI a try in 2006 and was convinced that these growing techniques would improve the lives of farmers in his cooperative. He started to spread the word. Now 2,000 families, his entire grower cooperative in northern Vietnam, are part of a network of over a million farmers who employ SRI and earn extra income.

Vuong Hoang Kim, a cooperative member in Yen Bai province, has volunteered to teach other women farmers about using SRI. “We all are very happy to see our rice plants grow very quickly and we gain a lot of benefits from these simple techniques,” she said.

Oxfam has been working with several partner organizations to promote SRI to small-scale farmers as a means to help poor farmers in Vietnam. One partner is the Plant Protection Department in the Ministry of Rural Development, which has been training farmers in SRI techniques in northern provinces of Vietnam with support from Oxfam since 2007. SRI training is part of a larger effort to help build the ability and confidence of smallholder farmers to develop agricultural innovations as a way to earn more money. The program is especially important for women in rural areas, who normally depend on agriculture for income and food.

“It’s a great achievement for small farmers because they are the ones leading the SRI innovation,” said Ngo Tien Dung of the Agriculture Ministry’s Plant Protection Department. “We need to build momentum for SRI extension over the coming years. It’s a smart investment needed to lift people out of poverty and to boost the national economy.”

Vietnam is the second largest rice exporter and accounts for one fifth of global rice supply. In 2010 the country exported 6.6 million tons, worth about $2.8 billion. Oxfam’s collaboration with the Plant Protection Department is helping small-scale farmers, who are usually the poorest, to increase their share of this business. SRI farmers now represent about 10% of all rice growers in Vietnam.